Aintree Grand National Meeting 2009 

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Plenty of Grand National Clues at Cheltenham and Naas

Malton-based handler John Quinn is looking forward to seeing Character Building take his chance in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase on the third day of The Festival on Thursday, March 12.

The nine-year-old grey was second to Butler’s Cabin in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007 and went on to finish third behind Denman in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury that December.

Prior to a disappointing effort behind Rambling Minster on heavy ground in the Blue Square Gold Cup at Haydock on February 14, Character Building had posted some good efforts over both hurdles and fences this season, winning over the smaller obstacles at Towcester in November and making the frame in competitive handicap chases at Cheltenham in December and January.

Quinn commented: “The John Smith’s Grand National is still the plan for Character Building and we will hopefully run him at Cheltenham first and then go straight to Aintree afterwards.

“He’s come out of his Haydock race in good order and I think there were several reasons as to why he didn’t run his race, with the biggest factor being the going. He doesn’t really handle heavy ground and he is a much better horse on a faster surface.

“We are hoping for a better run on the faster ground forecast at Cheltenham next week. He has already run well around the course twice this season and I think he goes into the race with a decent chance.”

Character Building is currently rated a 25/1 chance for the John Smith’s Grand National by Aintree’s official betting partner, totesport.

Many other John Smith’s Grand National hopefuls will also be in action at The Festival, including current top-weight Exotic Dancer, who is being aimed at the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, March 13. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained nine-year-old was fifth in chasing’s Blue Riband 12 months ago but has progressed this season to win at the highest level in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December, when he defeated fellow Cheltenham and Aintree contender War Of Attrition, the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, by 20 lengths.

Snowy Morning

Snowy Morning

Other horses with entries in both the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup and the John Smith’s Grand National include recent Kempton Grade Two winner Madison Du Berlais, current Order Of Merit leader Snoopy Loopy, and Snowy Morning, whose trainer Willie Mullins saddled Hedgehunter to finish second in both races in 2006.

The William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase on the first day of the Festival, Tuesday, March 10, may see last year’s John Smith’s Grand National hero Comply Or Die make his final start prior to defending his crown at Aintree. The extended three-mile contest could also feature fellow Aintree hopefuls My Will, the 2007 Scottish National victor Hot Weld and Simon.

Silver Birch was second in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (Tuesday, March 10) at Cheltenham prior to his victory in the 2007 John Smith’s Grand National and the Enda Bolger-trained pair of L’Ami and Garde Champetre may this year bid to follow in the footsteps of Gordon Elliott’s talented chaser.

The 2007 Irish Grand National winner Butler’s Cabin, who fell at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit when travelling well at Aintree last year, holds Cheltenham entries in both the Pertemps Final (Thursday, March 12) and the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

The nine-year-old, from the yard of Jonjo O’Neill, is currently the 12/1 joint-favourite with totesport for Aintree glory. Stablemate Can’t Buy Time also has a choice of possible engagements in the National Hunt Chase (Wednesday, March 11) and the Jewson Novices’ Handicap Chase (Thursday, March 12).

Several leading John Smith’s Grand National contenders are also out to improve their Aintree aspirations at Naas on Sunday including King Johns Castle, who will be making his first appearance since finishing second to Comply Or Die in the race last year. The Arthur Moore-trained 10-year-old will be running in a handicap hurdle over two miles and three furlongs.

The day’s feature race at the Irish course is the Leinster National Handicap Chase, which is set to feature Preists Leap, who took the Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran Park in January, as well at Southern Vic, who was fourth behind John Smith’s Grand National ante-post joint-favourite and Listed Becher Handicap Chase winner Black Apalachi (12/1 with totesport) in the Grade Two Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in February.

Chelsea Harbour

Chelsea Harbour

The Tom Mullins-trained Chelsea Harbour will also use the three-mile contest as preparation for the John Smith’s Grand National, for which he is currently a 25/1 chance with totesport. The nine-year-old gelding was ninth in last year’s Aintree contest and has produced some pleasing displays throughout the current campaign, winning over fences and hurdles and coming home four lengths behind Priests Leap when second in the Thyestes Handicap Chase.

On his latest appearance, Chelsea Harbour was third behind current totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup second favourite Neptune Collonges and Notre Pere in the Grade One Irish Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 15.

County Kilkenny-based Mullins reported: “Chelsea Harbour is all set for the Leinster National and he’s in great nick at the moment. He’s got a slight pull at the weights over Preists Leap compared to the Thyestes Chase and I would be hopeful that we would be able to turn the tables.

“I didn’t think he ran up to his form in the Irish Hennessy and I was a bit disappointed with the run because he just dropped out on the back straight. He’s been running in soft and heavy conditions all season and, although he loves that sort of ground, he can also run a decent race on quicker going.

“He’s been given 11st in the John Smith’s Grand National which means he is rated 8lb higher in Britain than in Ireland and I think he was hit hardest of all the Irish horses. But he’s in good form and we are definitely aiming him at Aintree once more.

“We would have run a lot better in the John Smith’s Grand National last year if we had done things a bit differently. He was out the back for the whole time on his final start prior to Aintree, so he didn’t have much of a race and we gave him too long a break between runs.

“We hope that we can have a better preparation this time round and he will be ridden with a bit more restraint in the race itself. Davy Russell will possibly ride one of the Gigginstown Stud runners, War Of Attrition or Hear The Echo, but I think that he would be leaning towards my fellow if he had the choice.”

The second scratchings deadline for the John Smith’s Grand National is at noon on Tuesday, March 17, details of which will be announced at Aintree’s Northern Media event the following day. A maximum field of 40 can line up for the world’s most famous steeplechase on Saturday, April 4.

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